Most ant species form transportation networks, be they foraging trails linking food sources to the main colony or underground galleries connecting the different parts of the nest. As for human transportation networks (roads, airlines, etc.), the design and the placement of the connecting points (or nodes) dramatically affects the movement of individuals and hence the exchanges of material and information. In a previous study, we have shown that the geometrical configuration of these nodes (i.e., the angles between the different exiting branches) can affect the route followed by an ant in a network of galleries and, as a consequence, the efficiency of the pheromone-based recruitment toward a food source. Here we show that we can reproduce these results using ant-like robots with minimal perceptual and cognitive capabilities. We demonstrate that the simple interaction between the displacement of an ant and the geometrical configuration of the gallery network can greatly affect the foraging performances of the colony. This result increases our understanding of how workers move through structures built by ant colonies and more generally points toward possible improvements for the design of man-made transportation networks.
Garnier S, Combe M, Jost C, Theraulaz G (2013) Do Ants Need to Estimate the Geometrical Properties of Trail Bifurcations to Find an Efficient Route? A Swarm Robotics Test Bed. PLoS Comput Biol 9(3): e1002903. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002903